FOREWORD by Roger Angell ... Yl l l
[ TRODUCTION to the ;31"11edition by E. B. White ................. xn
I. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE .
l. For m the possessi ve s ing ula r of nouns by adding 's .
2. In a se ries of three or more term s with a si ngle
conj unc tion, use a comma after eac h term exce pt
the la st . . ;
3. Encl ose par enth eti c ex press ions between co mmas. .. . ;~
4. Place a co mma before a co njunction in trodu cin g a n
inde pe ndent clause. . II
5. Do not join inde pende nt clauses with a co mma II
6. Do not break se ntenc es in two ]2
7. Use a colon after an independ ent cla use to introdu ce
a list of part icul ars, an apposi tive, an ampli ficat ion ,
or an illustrative qu otation. . . .... 15
8. Use a das h to se t off an abru pt break or int erruption
a nd to annou nce a long appositive or summary 16
9. Th e number of the subject determ ines the number
th e verb . . .. 18
10. Use th e pr oper case of pronoun . .. ... 2 1
11. A partici pial ph rase at the beginning of a se ntenc e
mu st refer to the gra mmat ical subject. . 24
v I CONTE NT S
II. ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF COMPOSITION .....31
12. Choose a suitable design and hold to it. 31
13. Mak e the paragraph th e unit of compos ition 31
14 . Use the activ e voice . . 33
15. P ut sta tements in posit ive form. .34
16. Use defini te, specific, conc rete language. . 37
17. Omit needless words. . 39
18 . Avoid a succession of loose sentences. . 40
19 . Express coord ina te ideas in similar form 43
20. Keep related words togeth er 44
21. In summaries , keep to one ten se. . 49
22. Place the emphatic words of a senten ce at the end 52
III. A FEW MATTERS OF FORM 55
IV. WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS COMMONLY MISUSED 63
V. AN APPROACH TO STYLE (with a List of Reminders) 97
1. Place yourse lf in th e back ground 100
2. Write in a way that com es naturally 101
3. Work from a sui table design. . . 101
4. Write with nouns and verbs . . 105
5. Revise and rewrit e. ... 105
6. Do not overwrite 105
7. Do not overstat e 106
8. Avoid the use of qualifier s. . 106
9. Do not affec t a breezy manner. . 106
10. Use orthodox spelling. . 108
11. Do not explain too much . .. 109
C ON T I-:NTS I v i
12. Do not construc t awkward adv erb s. . 109
13 . Make sure the read er knows who is speaking. III
14 . Avoid fancy words. ... 111
15. Do not use dialect unl ess your ear is good. " 11:3
16. Be clear. . 11:3
17. Do not inject opinion 114
18. Use figures of speech s paringly 115
19 . Do not tak e shortcuts at the cost of clarity 115
20. Avoid foreign langua ges. ' 115
21. Prefer the standa rd to the offbeat. li S
VI. SPELLING (from the first edition) 122
INDEX 1 ~4
COPYRIGHT PAGE l S~
vii I CON TENTS
h y Rog er An ge ll
Th e first writer 1 wa tc he d a t work was my ste pfa ther, E. B. White.
Eac h Tuesday morni ng, he wonld close his study door and sit down to
wri te the "N otes and Comme nt" page for The New Yorker. Th e task was
familia r to hi m- he was requi red to file a few hundred words of edito-
ria l or pe rsonal co mme ntary on some top ic in or out of the news that
week-hut the sounds of his type writ er from hi s room ca me in hesit ant
bursts, with long s ile nces in be twee n. Hours we nt by. Summoned at last
for lun ch , he was s ile nt and preocc up ied , a nd soon exc us ed himself to
ge t back 10 the job. When the eopy went off at last, in the aft ernoon RFD
pouch-e-we were in Mai ne, a day's mail awa y from New York-he rarel y
see med sa tisfied . " It is n't good e nough," he sa id so me times. " I wis h it
were be tte r,'
Writing is hard, even for autho rs who do it all th e time. Less frequent
practi tione rs- the job ap plicant; the bu siness exe cu tive with an annual
report to ge l out ; the high school senior with a Fau lk ner assignment; the
gra duate-sc hool stude nt with he r thesis proposal ; the writer of a letter of
eo ndole nee-ofte n ge t stuc k in an awkward pa ssage or find muddle on
their screens, a nd then blam e themsel ves. Wha t should be easy a nd
flowing looks tan gled or feeble or overb lown- not wha t was meant a t
all. Wha t's wrong with me, ea ch one thi nk s. Why ca n't 1 ge t thi s right?
It was this rec urri ng questi on, pu t to himself, that must hav e
inspired Whi te to revive and add to a textbook by an Engli sh professor
of his, Will Stru nk Jr. , that he had first rea d in college, and to get it
I vii i
published. The result, this quiet book, has been in print for forty years,
and has offered more than ten million writers a helping hand, White
knew that a compendium of specific tips-about singular and plural
verbs, parentheses, the "that"-"which" scuffle, and many others-
could clear up a recalcitrant sentence or subclause when quickly recon-
sulted, and that the larger principles needed to be kept in plain sight,
like a wall sampler.
How simple they look, set down here in White's last chapter: "Write
in a way that comes naturally," "Revise and rewrite," "Do not explain
too much," and the rest; above all, the cleansing, clarion "Be clear."
How often I have turned to them, in the book or in my mind, while try-
ing to start or unblock or revise some piece of my own writing! Th ey
help-they really do. They work. They are the way.
E. B. White's prose is celebrated for its ease and clarity-just think
of Charloue:s Web-but mainta ining this standard requ ired endless
attention. When the new issue of The New Yorker turned up in Maine, I
sometimes saw him reading his "Comment" piece over to himself, with
only a sl ightly different expression than the one he'd worn on the day it
went off. Well, O.K., he seemed to be saying. At least I got the ele-
This edition has been modestly updated , with word processors and
air conditioners making their firs t appearance among White's refer-
ences, and with a light redistribution of genders to permit a feminine
pronoun or female fanner to take their places among the males who
once innocently served him. Sylvia Plath has knocked Keats out of the
box, and I notice that "America" has become "this country" in a sample
text, to forestall a subsequent and possibly demeaning "she" in the
same paragraph. What is not here is anything about E-mail-the rules-
free, lower ease flow that cheerfully keeps us in touch these days. E-mail
is conversation, and it may be replacing the sweet and endless talking
we once sustained (and tucked away) within the informul letter, But we
are all writers and readers as well as communicators, with the need at
times to please and satisfy ourselves (as White put it) with the clear and
almost perfect thought.
ix I FOlt EWORD
I ntroduc tion *
At the close of the first World War, when I was a stude nt at Corn ell,
I took a course calle d English 8 . My professor was William Strunk Jr. A
textbook required for the course was a slim volume calle d The Elements
of Style, whose author was the profes sor himself. Th e year was 1919.
The book was known on campus in thos e days as "the little book," with
the stress on the word "liuIe." It had been privat ely printed by the
I pa ssed the course, gradua ted from the uni ver sit y, and forgot the
book but not the professor. Some thirt y-eight years lat er, the book
bobbed up again in my life when Macmillan commiss ione d me to re vise
it for the college market and the gen eral trade. Meantime, Professo r
Strunk had died.
The Elements qf Style, when I reexamin ed it in 1957, seemed to me
to contain rich deposits of gold. It was Will Strunk's parvum opus, his
a ttempt to c ut the vast triangle of' En glish rhetoric down to size and
write its rul es and principles on the head of a pin. Will himself had
hung the tag " little" on the book; he referred to it sa rdonically and with
sec re t pride as " the littl e book ," alwa ys giving the word "little" a spe-
cial twist , as though he wer e putting a spin on a ball. In its original form,
it was a forty-three page summation of the case for cleanliness , accuracy,
and brevity in the use of English. Today, fifty-two years later, its vigor
is unimpaired , and for sheer pith I think it probably set s a record that
is not lik ely to be broken. Even after I got through tampering with it, it
"E. B. White wrote thi s introduction for the] 9 79 edition.
I N TH OlJ UCTI O N I xi i
was still a tiny thing, a barely tarn ishe d gem. Seve n rul es of usage ,
eleven principl es of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of
words and expressions commonly misused-that was the sum and su b-
stance of Professor Strunk's work. Somewhat audacio usly, and in an
atte mpt to give my publisher his money's worth, I added a cha pte r
calle d "A n Approa ch to Style," setting forth my own pr ejudices, my
notions of error, my articles of faith. Thi s cha pter (Chapter V) is
addressed partic ularly to those who feel that English prose composition
is not only a necessary skill but a se nsi ble purs uit as well-a way to
spe nd one's days. I th ink Professor Strunk would not obje ct to that.
A sec ond edit ion of the book was pu blished in 1972. I have now
comple ted a third revision. Chap ter IV has been refurbis he d with words
and expressions of a recent vintage; four ru les of usage have been added
to Chapter 1. Fresh examples have been added to some of the rul es and
principles , amplifica tion has reared its head in a few places in the text
where I felt an assault could successfully be made on the bastion s of its
br evity, and in general the book has received a thorou gh overh aul-to
correct errors , delet e bewhiskered entries, and enlive n the argument.
Professor Stru nk was a positiv e man. His book contai ns rul es of
grammar phrased as direc t orders . In the main 1 have not tried to soften
his commands, or modify his pronouncements, or remove the special
objects of his scorn. I have tried, instead , to preserve the flavor of his
discont ent while slightly en larging the scope of the disc uss ion. The
Elements of Style does not pre ten d to surve y the whole field. Rather it
proposes to give in brief space the principal requiremen ts of pla in
Eng lish style . It concentrates on fun da men tals : the rules of usage and
principles of composition most commonly violated .
The reader will soon discover that these rul es and principles are in
the form of sharp comman ds , Sergeant Stru nk snapping orders to his
platoon. "Do not join ind epend ent cla uses with a comma." (Rule 5.)
" Do not break se ntences in two." (Rule 6.) "Use the active voice ." (Rule
14.) "Avoid a succession oflo ose sen tences." (Rule 18.) "In summa ries ,
keep to one tense." (Rule 21. ) Each rule of prin cipl e is followed by a
short hortatory essay, and usu ally the exhortation is followed by, or
interlarde d with , examples in parallel columns- the tru e vs. the false,
the right vs. the wrong, the timid vs. the bold, the ragge d vs. the tri m.
From every line th ere peers out at me the pu ck ish face of my professor,
x iii I I NT R ODUCT IO N
his short hair parted neatly in the middle and combe d down over his
forehead, his eyes blinking incessantly behind steel-rimmed spectacles
as though he had ju st e me rged into strong light , hi s lip s nibbling each
other lik e nervous horses, his smile shuttling to and fro und er a carefully
edge d mustach e.
" Omit needl ess word s!" cri es the author on page 39 , and into that
imp er ati ve Will Strunk really put hi s heart and soul. In the days when
I was sitting in his class, he omitted so many needless words, and omit-
ted them so forcibly and with suc h ea gern ess and ob vious relish, that he
often seemed in the position of ha vin g shortcha nge d him self-a man
left with nothing more to say yet with tim e to fill , a radio prophet who
had out-distanced the cl ock . Will Strunk got out of thi s pr edicament by
a simple trick : he utt er ed every se nte nce thr ee times. Whe n he deli v-
ered his oration on bre vity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk ,
graspe d his coa t lapels in his hands, and , in a hu sk y, cons pira toria l
voice, said, " Rule Seve ntee n. Omit needl ess words! Omit needl ess
words! Omit nee dle ss words! "
He was a memorable man , friendl y a nd funn y. Unde r the rem em-
ber ed sting of his kindly lash , I ha ve been trying to omit needl ess words
since 191 9, and although there are still man y words that cry for omission
and the huge task will never be accompli sh ed , it is exc iting to me to
reread the masterl y Strunkian elabora tion of this nobl e them e. It goes:
Vigorous writin g is conc ise. A se ntence should contain no
unn ecessar y words, a pa ragra ph no unn ecessa ry se ntences, for the
same rea son tha t a drawing should have no unnec essary lines and
a ma chine no unn ecess ary parts . Thi s requires not that the writer
mak e all se nte nces sho rt or avoid all detail and treat s ubjects onl y
in outline, but that eve ry word tell.
Th ere you ha ve a short, valua ble essay on the nature and beauty of
brevity- fifty-nine words that could cha nge th e world . Ha vin g recov-
ere d from his ad venture in proli xity (fifty-nine word s were a lot of words
in the tight world of Will ia m Stru nk jr.), the profes sor pro ce ed s to give
a few quick lessons in p runing. Student s learn to cut the deadwood from
"t his is a subject that," reducing it to " this subject, " a saving of three
words. Th ey learn to trim " use d for fuel purposes" down to "used for
fuel. " Th ey learn th at they are be ing cha tterboxes whe n the y say "the
I NTH OIl UCTI O N I xiv
qu estion as to whether" and that they should just say " whe ther" - a sav-
ing of four words out of a possible five.
The professor devotes a spec ial paragraph to the vile expression the
fa ct that , a phrase that ca uses him to qui ver with revulsion. Th e expres -
sion, he says, should be "rev ise d out of every se ntence in which it
occ urs." But a shadow of gloom see ms to hang over the page, and you
feel that he kn ows how hopeless his ca use is. I suppose I have written
the fa ct that a thousand times in the heat of composition, revised it out
maybe five hundred tim es in the cool aftermath. To be balling onl y .500
thi s lat e in the season, to fail half the time to connec t with this fat pitch ,
sa dde ns me, for it seems a bet rayal of the man who showed me how to
swing at it a nd mad e the swinging see m worthwhile.
I treasure The Elements of Style for its sha rp adv ice, but I treasu re it
even more for the audac ity and sel f-confide nce of its author. Will kne w
wher e he stood. He was so sure of wher e he stood, and mad e his posi-
tion so clear a nd so plau sible, that his peculiar stance ha s contin ued to
invigorate me-and, I am sure, thousands of other ex-stude nts -during
the years tha t have int er ven ed since our first e ncounte r. He had a num-
ber of likes and dislikes that were alm ost as whimsical as the c hoice of
a necktie, yet he mad e them seem utterl y convinc ing. He disliked the
word f orceful a nd adv ise d us to use fo rcible instead. He felt that the
word clever was grea tly overused: " It is best restri cted to ingenuity dis-
played in sma ll matt ers." He despi sed the expression student body ,
which he term ed gruesome, and mad e a spec ial trip downtown to the
Alum ni News office one day to pro test the express ion and sugges t that
suule ru ry be subs titu ted- a coina ge of his own, which he felt was sim-
ilar to citizenry. [ am told that the News editor was so cha rmed by the
visit, if not by the word, that he ord ered the stude nt body buried , ne ver
to rise again. Studentry has tak en its place. It's not much of an improve-
ment, but it does sound less cadaverous, a nd it mad e Will Stru nk qu ite
Some yea rs ago, whe n the heir to the thron e of E ngla nd was a child,
I noticed a headline in the Times about Bonni e Prince Charlie: "C HARLES'
TONSILS om:" Immediately Rule I leapt to mind.
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding s. Follow this
rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,
xv I I NTR OD UCT I ON
the witch's malice
Clearly, Will Strunk had foreseen, as far back as 1918, the dangerous
tonsillectomy of a prince, in which the surgeon removes the ton sils and
the Times copy desk removes the final s. He started hi s book with it. I
comm end Rule 1 to th e Times, and I tru st that Charles's throat, not
Charles' throat, is in fin e shape today.
Styl e rules of this sort are, of course, somewhat a matter of individ-
ual preference, and even the established rules of grammar ar e open to
challe nge. Professor Strunk, although one of the most infl exible and
choo sy of men , was qui ck to acknowledge the fallacy of infl exibility and
the danger of doctrine. "It is an old observation," he wrote, " that the
best writ ers some times disregard the rul es of rhetoric. When they do so,
however, the reader will usually find in th e se ntence some compensat-
ing merit, attained at the cost of th e violation. Unl ess he is ce rtain of
doing as well , he will probably do best to follow the rul es ."
It is enc our aging to see how perfectl y a book , even a du st y rul e book ,
perpetuates and exte nds the spirit of a man. Will Strunk loved the clear,
the bri ef, the bold, and his book is clear, bri ef, bold. Boldness is per-
haps its chief distinguishing mark. On page 43, explaining one of his
parallels, he says, "The lefthand version gives the impression that the
writer is undecided or timid, apparently unable or afraid to choose one
form of expression and hold to it." And his original Rule 11 was " Make
de fin ite assertions." That was Will all over. He sc orned the vague, the
tam e, the colorless, the irresolute. He felt it was worse to be irr esolute
than to be wrong. I rem ember a day in class when he leaned far forward ,
in his charac teristic pos e-the pos e of a man about to impart a secret-
and croa ked, " If you don 't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!
If you don 't know how to pronounce a word , say it loud! " Thi s comical
piece of ad vice stru ck me as sound at the time , and I still respect it.
Wh y compound ignorance with inaudibility? Wh y run and hid e?
All through The Elements ofStyle one finds evidences of the author's
de ep sympathy for th e reader. Will felt that the reader was in serious
trouble most of the tim e, flound ering in a swamp, and that it was th e
duty of an yone att empting to write English to drain thi s swamp quickly
I NTROD U CTI ON I x v i
and ge t the re ader up on dr y grou nd , or a t leas t to th row a rope. In revis-
ing the text, I hav e tried to hold stead ily in mind thi s beli ef" of" his, this
con cern for th e bewildered reade r.
In the Englis h cl a sses of" tod ay, " the litt le book" is sur rounde d by
longer, lower textbooks-books with permiss ive steering and a utoma tic
tra nsitions. Perhap s the book ha s becom e so met hing of" a curios ity. To
me , it still see ms to maintai n its origin a l poise, sta nd ing, in a draft y
time, erec t, resolute, a nd assured . I still find the Strunkia n wisdom a
comfort, the Strunkian hum or a deli ght , a nd the Strunkian a ll itude
toward right -and-wrong a blessing undi sgui sed .
E. B. W I I ITE
v vi i I I N T R O D U CT I O N
Elementary Rules of Usage
1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding :~.
Follow th is ru Ie what ev er the final co nso nant . Th us writeo
Charl es's [ricnd
tile witch 's mal ice
E xcept ions are th e poss essi ves of an ci en t pro per names e nd ing -es
and -is, I he possessi ve [esus '; and s uc h form s as.fiJr conscience' sake.[or
righreousness t sake . But suc h [orm s as Moses ' ' J ws, Isis ' tell/file arc C O Ill -
monly re p laced by
th e laws or Moses
the templ e of Is is
The pronominal possessives hers, its , th eirs , YO/l l"S, an d ours hav e no
apostroph e . Indefin ite pronouns, however, use the apostroph e to show
one's r igh ts
som ebod y else's umbrell a
A common error is to write it ~~ for its , or vice ve rsa . Th e first is a con-
traction, meaning " it is." The second is a poss es sive .
It 's a wise dog t hat scra tch es its own fle as .
2 . In a series of three or more terms with a single c on-
junction, use a c o m m a after each term except the last.
red , whit e, and blu e
gold, silver, or copper
He open ed the le lter, read it, and mad e a note of its contents.
This comma is often referred to as the "serial" comma .
In the names of bu sin ess [irm s the la st comma is us uall y omitted.
Follow the usage of the indi vidual firm .
Little, Brown an d Company
Donaldson, Lufkin & Jen rett e
3. Enclose parenthetic expressions betwe en commas.
The best way to see a country, unl ess you are pressed for time, is
to tra vel on loot.
T his rul e is diffi cul t to a ppl y; it is freque ntly hard to decid e whe the r
a sin gle word , su ch as however, or a bri ef phrase is or is not par enth et ic.
If th e in te rru p tion to the flow of the se ntence is but slight, the writer
may safel y omit th e commas . Bu t whe ther the interrupt ion is slight or
consid erabl e, never omi t on e com ma an d lea ve the othe r. T he re is no
defense for s uc h p unc tua tio n as
Marj ori e's husba nd, Colonel Nelso n pai d us a visit yesterday.
My broth er you will be pleased 10 hear, is now in perfect health.
Date s usually con tain parentheti c words or figures . P unc tuate as
February to Jul y, 19 92
Apr il 6, 1986
Wed nesday, November 14, 1990
Note that it is cus tomary to om it the comma in
6 April 1988
3 I EL EM E NT AllY llULE S OF US A GE
The last form is an excellent way to write a date; the figures are
se para te d by a word and are, for that reason, quickly grasped.
A name or a title in direct address is parenthetic.
If, Sir, you refuse, I can not predict what will happen.
Well , Susan, this is a fine mess you ar e in.
The abbreviations etc., i.e., and e.g. , the abbreviations for academic
degree s, and titles that follow a nam e ar e parenthetic and should be
Letters, packages, etc. , should go here.
Horace Fulsome, Ph .D., presided .
Rac hel Simonds , Attorney
Th e Rever end Ha rry Lang, S.].
No comma, however, should sep ar ate a noun from a restrictive term
of id entification.
Bill y the Kid
Th e noveli st Jan e Austen
William the Conque ror
The poet Sappho
Although Junior , with its abbrevia tion [r. , has commonly been
regarde d as par enthetic, logic suggests that it is, in fact, res trictive and
therefore not in need of a comma.
Ja mes Wright Jr.
Nonrestrictive relative clauses are parenthetic , as are similar clau ses
int roduced by conjunctions indi cating time or place. Commas are the re -
fore neede d. A nonrestrictive clause is one that does not serve to identify
or define th e antec edent noun.
The audience , which had at first been indiffere nt, be came more
and more interested .
In 1769, when Napoleon was born , Corsic a had but recently been
acquired by France.
Th e Element s of S tyle / 6
Ne the r Slowey, where Colerid ge wrote The Rime of the Ancient
Ma riner, is a few miles from Brid gewat er.
In these se nte nces, the clauses introduced by which, when, and
where are nonrestrictiv e; they do not limit or define, they mer ely add
some thing. In the first example, the clau se introduced by which does not
serve to tell which of several possibl e audiences is meant ; the read er
presuma bly kn ows that alrea dy. Th e clause adds, parentheti call y, a
sta teme nt supple me nting that in the main clause. Eac h of the thr ee
se nte nces is a combina tion of two sta teme nts that might have been
mad e indep end entl y.
Th e a udie nce was at first indiffer en t. Later it became more and
more inte rested.
Napole on was born in ] 769. At that time Cors ica had but rece ntly
been ac q u ired by Fran ce.
Coler idge wrote The Rime rd" the Ancient Mariner at Nether Slowey.
Net he r Slowey is a few miles [rom Bridgewat er.
Hest ricti ve clause s, by contras t, are not parentheti c and ar e not se t
off by commas . Th us,
Peopl e who live in glass hou ses should n't throw s tones .
Her e the c lause introdu ced by who does se rve to tell which peopl e a re
meant ; the se nte nce, unlik e the se nte nces abo ve, ca nnot be s plit into
two indep end ent s ta teme nts. Th e sa me principle of comma use appli es
to parti ci pial phrases and to a ppositives.
Peo ple s ilting in the rear couldn' t hear. (restrictive)
Unc le Bert , be ing slightly deaf, moved forward. (nonrestrictive)
My cousin Bob is a talent ed ha rpis!. (restrictive)
Our oldest dau ght er, Mary, s ings. (nonrestrictive)
Whe n the mai n cl au se of a se ntence is preced ed by a phrase or a
subo rdi na te clause, use a comma to se t off these ele me nts .
Partly by ha rd fighting, partl y by diplom ati c skill, they enlarged
thei r domini ons to th e eas t a nd rose to royal ran k with the possession
of Sic ily.
1J I E LE MEN TA HY ItOL E S OF USAGE
4. Plac e a comma b efore a conjunction introducing an
Th e ea rly rec ords of the city have disa pp ear ed , and the story of its
first years ca n no lon ger be recon structed.
Th e s ituation is peril ous, but there is still one cha nce of escape .
Two-part sen tenc es of which the se cond member is introduced by as
(in the sense of " because'tj.jor, or, nor, or while (in the sense of " a nd a t
th e sa me tim e") likewi se require a comma before the conj unction.
If a dep endent clause, or an in trodu ctory phrase requiring to be se t
off by a co mma, preced es the se cond ind ep endent clause, no comma is
need ed afte r the conjunct ion.
Th e s itua tion is perilou s, hut if we a re prep ar ed to act promptly,
there is s till one cha nce of esc ape .
When th e subjec t is the sa me for both c lauses a nd is ex presse d onl y
once, a comma is useful if the connec tive is lnu, Wh en the connectiv e
is and, the comma s hould be omitted if the relation between the two
sta te me nts is c lose or immediat e.
I ha ve hea rd the a rgumen ts, but a m still unc onvinced .
He has had se vera l years' ex perience and is thoro ughly com pe te n t,
5 . Do not join independent clauses with a c o m nut,
If two or more cla uses gramma tica lly comple te and not join ed by a
conj unc tion a re to form a single co mpound se nte nce, the prop er mar k
of punctuati on is a se micolon.
Mary Shelley's works ar e e nterta ining; they are full of e ngaging
It is nea rly half past five; we cannot reach town before dar k.
It is, of course, equa lly, correc t to write eac h of these as two sentences,
replacing th e se micolons with periods.
Mary She lle y's work s are entert aining, They are full of engaging ideas.
It is nearl y half past five . We ca nno t rea ch town before dark.
II I E I.E ~ lE j TAHY R UL E S O F USAGE
If a conj unc tion is insert ed , the prop er mark is a co mma. (Rule 4 .)
Mary She lley's works are entertaining, for they are full of engag ing
It is nearly half past five, a nd we ca nno t reach town before dark .
A compa rison of the thr ee forms give n abov e will show cl ea rly the
advantage of the first. It is, a t least in the examples given, beLler than
the sec ond form because it suggests the clo se relation ship be tween the
two sta te me nts in a way tha t the second does not a ttempt, and beLl er
than the third because it is bri efer and therefor e more forcible. Ind eed ,
thi s simple meth od of indi cating relationship between sta te ments is one
of the most useful devices of composition. Th e rel ati onshi p, as above, is
co mmonly one of ca use and conse que nce.
Note that if the seco nd clause is preced ed by a n ad verb, suc h as
accordingly besides, then, there/ore, or thus , and not by a conj unct ion,
the sem icolon is still required.
I had never been in the place befo re; bes ides, it was dark as a
An exception to the se micolon rul e is worth notin g her e. A co mma
is prefe rabl e whe n the c lauses are very shor t a nd alik e in form, or whe n
the tone of the se ntence is easy and co nve rsa tiona l.
Man propo ses, Cod d isposes .
Th e gales swung a pa rt, the bridge fell , the portcullis was drawn lip.
1 hard ly knew him, he was so cha nged .
Here today, gone tomorro w.
6. Do 1I0t break sentences in two.
In othe r words, do not lise peri ods for commas.
I met them on a Cuna rd liner man y years ago. Coming home from
Liverpool to New York.
She was an int er esting ta lker. A woman who had tra veled all ove r
the world and lived in ha lf a doze n countries .
In both these examples, the first peri od should be replaced by a
comma and the following word begun with a small lett er.
Th e El eme nts oj S l y le I 12
It is permissible to make an e mpha tic word or expressio n se r ve the
purpose of a se nte nce a nd to punctuate it ac cordingly:
Aga in and again he called out. No repl y.
Th e writer mu s t, howe ve r, be certain that the e m phasis is warranted ,
lest a clipped se nte nce seem merely a blunder in sy ntax or in punctuation.
Generall y s pea king, th e place for broken se nte nces is in di al ogu e , when
a c harac te r happens to speak in a cl ipped or fragm entary way.
Rules 3, 4 , 5 , and 6 co ver th e most important principles that govern
punctuation. Th ey should be so thoroughl y ma st ered that their a pplic a tio n
becomes seco nd na ture .
7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a
list of particulars , an appositive , lUL amplification, or an illus-
A colon tells th e re ade r that what follow s is close ly rel at ed to the pre -
ced ing c la us e. Th e co lon has mor e effect tha n th e comma, less powe r to
se parat e than the se micolon, a nd more forma lity than the das h. II usu ally
follows an ind ependent c la use and s ho uld not se parate a verb from its
com ple me nt o r a preposition from its object. Th e exa mp les in the left hand
co lum n, below, are wro ng; the y s hould be rewritt en as in the righthand
co lu m n.
Y dedicat ed whinier
uur Your dedicated whittier
requires: a knife, a piece of requires three props: a knife.
wood, and a hack porch. a piece of wood, and a hack
Unders tanding is that pen- Understanding is that pen-
etrating qu ality of knuwledge etrating quality of knowledge
that grows from: theory, prac- that grows from theory, prac-
tice, conviction, asse rtion, tice, convict ion, asse rtion,
error, and humili ation. error, and humiliation.
Joi n two ind e pe nde n t cla uses with a colon if the second int erp ret s or
a m plifies th e firs t.
But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial:
there was no stopover in the undertaker's foul parlor, no wreath or spray.
A colon ma y introduce a quotation th at supports or contri bu tes to th e pre-
ced ing cla use .
15 I I::LE ME T AHY H UL ES UF USACE
9. The number of the subject determines the number of
the verb .
Words th at inte rve ne between s ubject and verb do not a ffec t th e
number of th e verb.
The bittersweet flavor of The bittersweet Ilavor of
youth-i ts trials, its joys, its youth-its trial s, its joys, its
adven tures, its challe nges- adventures, its challenges-s-is
are not soon forgotten. not soon forgotten.
A common blunder is th e use of a s ing ular ve rb form in a relative
clause foll owin g " one of . .. " or a s imilar ex p ression when th e relative
is the s ubject.
One of the ablest scie n- One of the ablest sc ien-
tists who has altacked this tists who have atta cked this
One of those people who is One of those people who
neve r ready on time a re never read y on l i me
Use a s ing ula r verh form after each, eithe r, everyone, everybody, neith er,
Everybody thin ks he has a uniqu e se nse of humor.
Although both docks strike chee rfully, neither keeps good time.
Vilh 1I01l C, use the s ing u lar verb when th e word mean s " no on e" or
lone of us are perfect. one of us is perfect.
A p lural verb is co mmo n ly used when non e s ugges ts more than one
th ing or person.
None are so fallibl e as those who are sure they're right.
A co mpou nd subject form ed of two or mor e nouns joined by and
almos t always requir es a plural verb.
The walru s and the carpe nter were walk ing close at hand.
Bu t certa in co mp ou nds, often cli ch es, a re so inseparable they a re co n -
sidered a unit a nd so take a si ng ular ve rb, as do compound sub jects
qualified by each or every.
T h e Element s oj St ),le I 1 8
Th e sq ualor of the stree ts remi nded her of a line from Oscar Wilde:
" Ve a re all in the gutter, but some of us ar e looking a t the s tars."
Th e colon also has certain fun ction s of form : to foll ow th e saluta tion of
a formal lett er, to se pa ra te hour from min ute in a notation of tim e, and
to se pa ra te the title of a work from its subtitle or a Bib le cha pte r from a
Dear Mr. Montagu e:
dep ar ts at I 0:48 1'.~1.
Practical Calligraphy: An Introduction to Italic Script
Ne he mia h 11:7
8. Use (I dash to se t oI! an abrupt. break or interruption
atu] to antunt nce a long appositive o r sumnuiry,
A dash is a ma rk of separatio n stro nge r th an a comma, less form al
tha n a colon, and more relax ed than pa ren theses .
His firs t Ihought on gelling out of hed - if he had an y thought a t
all-was to get back in again.
The rear axle bega n to mak e a noise -a g rind ing, chatte ring,
te eth-g ritti ug rasp.
Th e incre asin g reluctance of the sun 10 ri se, the extra nip in th e
breeze, the pall er of she d lea ves dropp ing-all the e vide nces of fall
drifting into winter we re clearer each day.
Use a dash on ly whe n a more common mark of pu nc luation seems
j nadeq uat e.
Her fath er 's s us pic ions H er fath er's su spi cion s
pro ved well-founded-it was prove d well-founded. It was
not Edward s he eared for- it no t E dward s he ca red for, it
was Sa n Franci sco. was San Francis co.
Violence-the kind you see V iolence, the kind you see
on television-is not honestly on te l e vision, is not hon est ly
violent- the re lies its harm . violent. Th er e lies its harm.
His first thought on getting out of bed
-if he had any thought at all-
was to get back in agai n.
The long and th e short of it is . ..
Dread and butter was all she se rved.
Giv e and take is ess ential to a happy household .
E ver y window, pi cture, and mirror was smashe d.
A singular subject remains s ingu lar even if other nouns are connec t-
ed to it by with, as well as, in addition to, except, together with, and no
His speech as well as his manner is obj ect ionable.
A linking verb agree s with the number of its subj ect.
Wh at is wanted is a few more pa irs of hands.
Th e tro ubl e with truth is its many vari eti es.
Some nouns that appear 10 be plural are usually construe d as singu lar
a nd given a singu lar verb.
Polit ics is a n art, not a sc ie nce.
Th e Hcp uhl ican ll eudqu urtc rs is on th is s ide of the trac ks .
Th e gcn cral's qu arters are acro ss the river.
In thes e eases the writer mu st s imply learn the idi oms. Th e conte nts
of a book is si ngular. Th e conte nts of a jar may be e ither s ing ula r or piu-
ra l, dep en d ing on wha t's in the jar-jam or ma rb les.
10. U..se the proper case of pronoun.
Th e person al pro nouns, as well as the pronoun who, cha nge form as
they functio n as s ubject or obj ect .
Will Ja ne or he be hired, do you think'?
Th e c ulprit, it turned out , was he.
We he av y eat ers would rat her walk than ride.
Give this work to whoever looks idle.
2 1 I F.LF:MF.NTA RY RULF. S OF US AG F.
In the last example, whoever is the s ubject of looks idle; the obj ect of the
preposition to is the entire clause whoever looks idle. Wh en who in troduces
a subordina te cl aus e, its case depends on its function in that cl ause.
Virgil Soames is the can- Virgil Soames is the ca n-
did ate whom we think will did ate who we think will win.
Win . [We think he will win.]
Virgil Soames is the ca n- Virgil Soames is the ca n-
did ate who we hope to elec t. did at e whom we hope to elee t.
[We hope to elect him.]
A p ronoun in a com pa rison is nom inati ve if it is th e subject of a sla ted
Of understood verb.
San dy writes better than I. (Than I write.)
In ge ne ra l, a void " unde rs tood" ver bs by s u pp ly ing th em .
I think Horace admires I thin k Horace adm ires
Jess ica more than r. Jess ica more than I do.
Polly loves ca ke more Polly loves ca ke more than
than me. she loves me.
Th e obj ecti ve case is correct in th e following ex a m p les .
The ranger offered Shirley and him some advice on camps ites.
They ca rne to meet the Baldwins and us.
Let's lalk it over belween us, then , you and me.
Whom should I as k?
A group of us taxpayers prolesled.
Us in th e last ex a m ple is in apposition to ta xpayers , th e obj ect of the
prepos iti on of. The wording, a lt ho ug h gra mma tic a lly d efensible , is
rarel y apt. "A group of us protes ted as ta xp aye rs" is bet te r, if not exac tly
eq u iva le nt.
Use th e s imple personal pronoun as a subject.
Blake and myself st ayed Blake and I stayed home.
Howard and yoursel f Howard and you brought
brou ght the lunch, I thought. the lunch , I thought.
Th e Elements of St yle / 22
Th e possessi ve case of pronouns is used to show owne rship. It has
two forms: the adj ecti val modifi er, YO lir hat , a nd the noun form , a hat
Th e dog has bu ri ed one of your gloves and one of min e in the
Hower bed .
Gerunds usually require the possessiv e case.
Moth er obj eeled to our driving on the icy road s.
A present participle as a verbal, on the othe r hand, tak es the obj ec-
Th ey heard h im singing in the showe r.
Th e differ en ce between a verbal participle and a ge rund is not always
ob viou s, but note what is really sai d in eac h of the following.
Do you mind me as king a qu estion "?
Do you mind my asking a qu estion'?
In the first se nte nce, the qu eri ed obj ection is to me, as oppo sed to
othe r memb ers of the group, asking a qu esti on. In the sec ond exa mple,
the issu e is wheth er a qu estion may be ask ed at all.
11. A participial phrase at the beginning of (l sentence
must refer 10 the grumnuuicol subje ct .
Walk ing s lowly down the road , he sa w a woman aeco mpa nied by
two ch ildre n.
Th e word walking refer s to th e sub ject of the se nte nce, not to the
woma n. To mak e it re fer to th e woma n, the writer mu st recast the
He saw a woma n, accompa nie d by two ch ildre n, walking slowly
down the roa d.
Parti cipial phrases precede d by a co nj unc tion or by a prepo sition,
nouns in a pposition, adj ect ives, and adj ec tive phrases come und er the
same rul e if they begin the se nte nce .
Th e El ement s of S t yl e I 24
On arriving in Chica go, his On arriving in Chi ca go, he
friends met him at the station. was met at th e sta tion by his
A soldier of pro ved valor, A soldier of proved valor,
th ey entrus ted him with th e he was entrus ted with the
defen se of the city. defen se of the city.
Young and inexperi en ced , Young and inexperi enced ,
th e lask see med ea sy to me. I thought the task ea sy.
Withoul a friend to counse l Without a friend to counsel
him, the lemplation proved him , he found the temptation
Se nte nces viola ting Rul e II ar e often ludi crous:
Bein g in a dilapidat ed condition, I was a ble to bu y the hou se ver y
Wondering irre solutely what lo do ne xt, the cloc k s truc k twelve .
Wond ering irresolutely
what to do next ,
the clock struck twelve.
Elementary Principles of Composition
12. Choose a suitable design and hold 10 it.
A basic structural desi gn und erli es every kind of writing. Writers
will in part follow this design, in part deviat e from it, accord ing to their
sk ills , their needs, and the un expect ed e vents that aeeompan y the act
of compos ition. Writing, to be effe ctiv e, must follow closely the thou ght s
of the writ er, but not necessarily in the ord er in which thos e thoughts
occur, This calls for a sch em e of procedure. In som e cases , the best
design is no desi gn , as with a love leit er, which is simply an outpourin g,
or with a casual essa y, which is a rambl e. But in most eases, plann ing
must be a deliberate prelud e to writing. Th e first prin cipl o of compos i-
tion , therefore , is to fores ee or det ermin e the shape of what is to come
and pu rsu e that shape.
A sonnet is built on a fourt ee n-line fram e, eac h lin e conta ining five
feet. Hence, sonneteers know s exac tly where they are headed, alt hough
they may not know how to ge t there. Most [orms of composition ar e less
dearly defined, mor e flexible, but all hav e sk el etons to which the writ er
will bring the flesh and the blood. The more d early the writer perceiv es
the shape, the better are the chances of success.
13. Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
The paragraph is a conveni ent unit; it serves all forms of literary
work . As long as it holds together, a paragraph may be of any length-
a single, short sentence or a passage of great duration .
If the subject on which you are writing is of slight exte nt, or if you
int end to trea t it briefly, there may be no ne ed to divid e it into top ics.
Thus, a bri ef description, a bri ef book review, a brief account of a single
incident, a narrative merely outlining an action, th e setting forth of a
single id ea-an yone of these is best writt en in a single paragraph .
Afte r the paragraph has been written, examine it to see wheth er di vision
will improve it.
Ordinaril y, however, a subject requires divi sion into top ics, eac h of
which should be dea lt with in a paragraph . The obj ect of treatin g eac h
top ic in a paragraph by itself is, of course, to aid th e reader. The begin-
nin g of eac h paragraph is a s igna l to him that a new s tep in the de vel-
opm ent of the subject has bee n rea c hed.
As a ru le, s ingle se nte nces s hould not be written or pr inted as para-
graphs. An exce ption may be mad e of se nte nces of tra nsi tion, indi ca tin g
the relat ion be tween the parts of an expos ition or argumen t.
In d ialogu e, eac h sp eec h, e ven if on ly a sing le word, is usuall y a
paragraph by itself; that is, a new pa ragra ph begins with eac h c ha nge of
sp eak er. The a pp lica tion of thi s rule when dialogu e and narrative ar e
combined is bes t learn ed from exa mples in we ll-edited works of fict ion.
Somet imes a writer, seek ing to c rea te an effect of rapi d ta lk or for some
other rea son , will e lect not to se t off eac h sp eec h in a se pa ra te para-
gra ph and instea d will run s peec hes togeth er. The common practice,
howe ver, an d the one that se rves best in most instances, is to give eac h
s peech a paragrap h of its own.
As a ru le, begin ea ch paragraph e ithe r with a se nte nce tha t s ugges ts
the topi c or with a se nte nce tha t he lps the transition. If a paragraph
form s part of a lar ger compos ition, its re lation to what preced es, or its
functi on as a part of th e whole , ma y need to be ex pressed. Thi s ca n
so me times be done by a mere word or phrase (again, th erefo re , [or the
same reason) in the first se nte nce. Some times, however, it is ex ped ie nt
to ge t into the topic slowly, by way of a se nte nce or two of in trodu ction
or trans itio n.
ln narration and descrip tion , the paragraph some times begins with a
conc ise , comprehe nsive s ta tement serv ing to hold toge ther the detai ls
Th e breeze served us admi rably.
Th e ca mpaign opened with a se ries of reverses.
Th c E l e me nts 11/ S I } le I ;2
The next ten or twelve pages were filled with a curious set of
ent ries .
But when th is device , or any device, is too often used, it becomes a
ma nn erism. More commonly, the opening sentence simply indicates by
its subject the direction the paragraph is to take .
At lengt h I thought I might return toward the stockade.
He picked up the heavy lamp from the table and began to explore.
Another flight of steps, and they emerged Oil the roof.
In an ima ted narrative, the paragrap hs are likely to be short and
withou l any sembla nce of a topi c sen ten ce, the writer rushing headlong,
eve nt following event in rapid succession. Th e break between such
paragraphs merely serves the purpose of a rh etori ca l pause, throwing
into promin ence some detai l of the act ion .
In general, remember th at paragra phing calls for a good e ye as well
as a logical mind . E normous blocks of pri nt look formida ble to read ers,
who a re often re luct a nt to tack le them. There fore, break ing long pa ra-
graphs in two, ev en if il is not necessa ry to do so lor sense, mea ni ng, or
logica l developme nt, is o fte n a visua l help. But rem e mbe r, too, that firing
olf many short paragraphs in q uick succession ca n be dist rac ting.
Paragraph breaks used only for s how read like the writing of comme rc e
or of d is pl ay advertising. Mod e ra tion a nd a sense of order shou ld be the
main consi derations in parag rap h ing.
14.. US(~ the actice voice .
Th e active voice is us ua lly mo re direct and vigorous than the pass ive :
I shall always remember my first visit to Boston.
This is much beller than
My first visit to Boston will always be remembered hy me.
The la tter sentence is less di rect, less bold, and less concis e. If th e
wri ter tries to make it more concise by om itting "by me,"
My first visit to Boston will always be remembered,
it b ecomes indefinite: is it the wri ter or some undisclosed person or the
world at large that will always remember this visit?
33 I ELEMENTARY P R I NCI P L ES OF CO MPOS ITION
Thi s rul e does not , of course, mean that the writ er should entirely
discard the passive voice, which is frequently conve nie nt and some-
Th e d ram at ists of th e Restoration ar e little es teemed today.
Modern read ers hav e little es tee m for the dramatists of the
Resto rati on .
Th e first would be th e preferred form in a pa ragraph on the dramati sts
of the Restorati on; the second, in a paragraph on the tastes of modern
read ers. The need of making a parti cular word the subject of the se ntence
will ofte n, as in these exa mples , determine which voice is to be used .
Th e habitu al use of the ac tive voice, however, mak es for forcibl e
writing. Thi s is tru e not onl y in narrati ve principall y concern ed with
action but in writing of a ny kind. Man y a lam e se nte nce of description
or exposition can be mad e livel y a nd e mpha tic by substituting a tran si-
tive in the ac tive voice for some suc h perfun ctory ex press ion as there is
or could be heard.
Th ere were a great number Dead leaves cove re d the
of dead lea ves lyin g on the ground.
At dawn the c rowing of a Th e coc k's c row cam e with
rooster cou ld he hea rd . da wn.
T he reason he left college Failing health compe lle d
was that his health becam e him to lea ve co llege .
imp aired .
It was not lon g before he She soon repent ed her
was very sorry that he had word s.
said wha t he had.
Note, in the exa mples above, that whe n a se ntenc e is mad e stronger,
it us uall y becom es shorter. Th us, brevity is a by-product of vigor.
1 5 . Put statements in positive form.
Mak e definite asse rtions . Avoid tam e, colorless, he sitating, noncom-
mittal language . Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis,
never as a mean s of evas ion.
Th e El em e nl s of SI )"I, I 3 4
He was not very ofte n on He us ually came late.
She did not think that He thought the study of
s tudying La tin was muc h use. Latin usel ess .
The Taming 0/ the Shrew Tho wome n in The Taming
is ruth er weak in spots. (~/JJw Shrew are unattractive .
Shakespeare does not por tray Kat hari nc is d isagreea hle,
Katha rine as a very admirahl e Bian ca insi gnifican t.
c haracte r, nor doe s Bian ca
remain long in memory as an
important c huract er in
Shakespeare's works .
The last examp le, before corre ction, is ind e fin ite as we ll as ne ga ti ve .
The correct ed ve rsion, c o nseq ue ntly, is s im ply a gu ess at the wr ite r's
in te ntion.
Al l th re e e xa m p le s show the weakn ess in heren t in the word not..
Conscious ly or u nc on s ci o us ly, the reade r is d iss a tis fie d with bei ng told
only what is not; th e re a d e r wishes 10 be lo ld what is. Hen ce, as a ru le,
it is b etter to e x p re s s e ve n a ne galiv e in posit ive [o rm .
not honest disllOncs l
not impo rta nt lrirJing
d id nol remember forgot
did not pay any a ttent ion 10 ignorcd
did not hav c much confi- d islrusl (:d
den ce in
Placing negat ive a nd pos it ive III opposition mak es for a s tron ger
Not c ha rity, bU I simpl e ju stice.
Not that I loved Caesar less, hu t that I loved llom « more.
Ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do
for your cou ntry.
N egati ve words other tha n not are usually s tro ng.
Her lovel iness I nev er kn ew / Until she smil ed on me.
:JS I E LE M E NT A ll Y PIUNCIPLE S OF COMPO S ITIO N
Statements qualified with unnecessary auxiliaries or conditionals
sou nd irresol ut e.
If you would let us know If you will let us know the
the time of your arrival , we time of your arrival, we shall
would be happ y to arrange be happy to arrange your
your transportation from the transportation from the airport.
Appli cants can make a Applicant s will make a
good impression by being neat good impression if they are
and pun ctual. neat and punctual.
Plath may be rank ed Plath was one of those
among those modern poets modern poets who died young.
who died young.
If your eve ry sente nce admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority.
Sav e th e aux iliaries would, should, could, may, might, and can for situ-
a tions involving real un certai nt y.
16. Use definite, specific, concrete language.
Prefer th e specific to the gen eral, th e definite to th e vagu e, th e con-
c re te to th e abstrac t.
A period of unfavorabl e It rained every day for a
weath er set in. week.
He showed satisfaction as He grinned as he pocket ed
he took posses sion of his well- the coin.
earned reward .
If those who have studi ed th e art of writing are in accord on an yone
poi nt, it is this: the surest way to arouse and hold th e reader's attention
is by bei ng specific, definite , and concret e. Th e greatest writers -
Hom er, Dante, Shakesp eare-are effecti ve largely because th ey deal in
particul ars and report th e de tails that matter. Their words call up pictures.
Jean Stafford , to cite a mor e modern author, demonstrates in her
short story " In th e Zoo " how prose is made vivid by the use of words that
evoke im ages and sensations:
. . . Daisy and I in time found asylum in a small menager ie down
by the railroad tracks. It belonged to a gentle alcoholic ne'er-do-well,
who did nothing all day long but drink bathtub gin in rickeys and
37 I ELEME NT ARY PRI N CIPL E S OF COMPO SITION
To show what happens when strong writing is deprived of its vigor,
George Orwell on ce took a passage from th e Bible and drained it of its
blood. On th e left, below, is Orw ell's translation; on the righ t, th e verse
from Ecclesiastes (King James Version).
Objective consideration of I return ed, and saw under
conte mporary phenomena the sun , that the race is not to
compels the conclusion that the swift, nor the battle to the
success or failure in competi- strong, neith er yet bread to
tive ac tivities exhibits no the wise, nor yet riches to men
tend ency to be commensu rate of understanding, nor yet
with innate capacity, but that favor to men of skill; but time
a considerable eleme nt of the and chance happ eneth to
unpredictabl e must inevitably thcm all.
be Lak en into acc ount.
17. Omit needless words.
Vigoro us writing is co nc ise . A se nte nce s ho u ld co nta in no unneces-
sary words , a parag raph no unn eces sary se ntences, for th e same reaso n
that a dra wing should ha ve no unnecessary lin es an d a ma chi ne no
unn ecess ary parts, Th is requ ires not that the writ er mak e a ll se nte nces
s hort, or a vo id all det ail a nd treat s ubjects o nly in outline, bUI th at e ve ry
word te ll.
Man y ex p ress ions in co mmo n use viola te thi s prin cipl e.
the qu estio n as to whether wh e th er (th « qu e s tion
there is no doubt hut that no douht (douhtless)
used for fuel pu rposes used lo r fuel
he is a man who he
in a hasty manner hastily
this is a subjec t that this subjec t
Her story is a strange one. Her story is strange.
the reaso n why is that beca use
The fa ct th at is a n especially debilitating ex pressi on. It should b e
revised ou t of e ve ry sen te nce in which it occurs.
:l lJ I E LE MENTAR Y PRI N CI PL E S O F COMPO SITIO N
owing to the fac t that since (beca use)
in spite of the fact that thoug h (although)
ca ll your all ention to the remind you (notify you)
I was unaware of the fact I was unawar e that (did
that not know)
the fact that he had not his failure
su cc eed ed
the fac t that I ha d ar rived Illy ar rival
See also the words case, cha racter, nature in Chapter IV. Who is, which
was, and the lik e ar e often superfluous.
H is cousi u, who is a mem - His cousin, a member of
ber of the same firm the same firm
Trafalgar, which was Trafa lgar, Nelson's last
Ne lson's last bat tle ballle
As the active voice is more conc ise tha n the pas siv e, and a posi tive
sta tem ent more conc ise than a negative on e, many of the examples
given und er Rul es 14 and 15 illustrate this rul e as well.
A com mon way to Ial] into wordin ess is to present a single comple x
idea , s tep by step , in a seri es of sent en ces that might to adv ant age be
combine d in to one .
Macbeth was very ambi- Encouraged by his wife,
tious. This led him to wish to Macbeth achi eved his ambition
become king of Sco tlan d. The and realized the predi ction of
witch es told him that this wish the witch es by murd er ing
of his would come tru e. The Dunc an and becoming king of
king of Scotland at this time Scotland in his place.
was Duncan. Encouraged by (26 words)
his wife, Macb eth murdered
Dun can . He was thus enabled
to suc ceed Dun can as king.
13. Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
This rul e refers especially to loose sentences of a particular type :
thos e consisting of two clauses, the second introduced by a conjunction
Her story is strange.
or relative. A writer ma y e rr by making sen te nces too compact and peri-
odi c . A n occasiona l loo se sente nce pre vents th e s tyle from becoming
too formal a nd gives th e read er a cer ta in relief. Consequentl y, loo se sen-
tences a re co mmon in easy, u nstudied writing . Th e danger is that th ere
may be too many of th em.
A n un skilled writer will some times cons truc t a whol e paragraph of
sentences of thi s kind , using as con nectives and, but, and, le ss fre-
quentl y, who, which, when, where, and while, these la st in nonrestrict ive
s enses. (See Hul e 3.)
The third concert of the subscription se ries was given last evening,
and a large audience was in attendance. Mr. Edward Appleton was
the soloist, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra furnished the
instrum ental music. The former showed himself to be an artist of the
first rank, while the lall er proved itself fully deser ving of its high
reputation. The interest aroused by the se ries has been very gratifying
to the Committee, and it is plann ed to give a similar se ries annually
her eafter. The fourth concert will be given on Tuesday, May 10, when
an equally attra ctive program will be prese nted .
Apart from its trit eness and e m ptiness, the paragraph above is bad
because of the s truct ure of its se nte nces, with their mechani cal sy m me try
a nd s ingsong. Com pa re these sen te nces from th e c ha pte r " W ha t I
Beli e ve" in E. M. Forst er's 7100 Cheersfor Democracy:
I believe in aristocra cy, though-if that is the right word, and if a
democrat lIIay use it. Not an aristocra cy of power, bused upon rank
and influence, but an aristocracy of the se nsitive, the considerate and
the plucky. Its memb ers are to be found in all nations a nd class es,
and all through the ages, and there is a sec ret und erstanding between
them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition , the
one perman ent victory of our queer race over crue lty and chaos.
Thousand s of them peri sh in obscurity, a few are great names. They
are se nsitive for others as well as for themsel ves, they a re conside rate
without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to
endure, and they ca n take a joke. *
" Exce rp t from " Whal l Believ e" ill Tuo Cheers/or Democracy, copyright 1 9:~<) and ren ewed 196 7 by
E. 1'1. Fors ter, re printed hy per mission of Harcourt . Inc. Also, hy permission of Th e Provost and Scholars of
King's College. Cambridg e. and The Soddy of Authors as the literary representa tives of the E. 11. F OI15le r Estate.
Th e El em ents oj St yl e I 42
A writ er who ha s written a se ries of loose se nte nces should recast
e nough of them to remov e the monotony, repl acing them with simple
senten ces , senten ces of two clauses joined by a se micolon, by periodic
sent en ces of two clauses, or sentences (loose or periodic) of thre e clauses-
which ever best represent the real relations of the thought.
19. Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
This prin cipl e, that of parallel construc tion, requires that expressions
similar in content and function be outwardl y similar. The likeness of form
enables the read er to recognize more readil y the likeness of content and func -
tion. The familiar Beatitudes exemplify the virtue of parallel construction.
Bless ed a re the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kin gdom of hea ven.
Blessed ar e they that mourn: for they sha ll be comforted .
Blessed a re the meek : for they sha ll inh e rit the ea rth,
Blessed a re they which do hun ger a nd thirst after righteousn ess: for
they s hall be fill ed .
The unskilled writer often violates this principl e mistak enly believing in
the value of constantly varying the form of express ion. When repeating a
statement to emphasize it, the writer may need to va lY its form. Otherwise,
the writer should follow the prin cipl e of parall el construction.
For merly, sc ience was Form erl y, sc ience was
tau glu in th e textbook meth od, lau ght by the textbook
while now the laboratory method; now it is taught by
method is employed . the lab orato ry method.
Th e lefthand vers ion gives the impression that the writer is und ecid ed
or timid , appar entl y unabl e or afraid to choose one form of express ion and
hold to it. Th e right hand version shows that the writer has at least mad e
a choice and abide d by it.
By this principle, an article or a preposition applying to all the memb er s
of a se ries must eithe r be used onl y before the first term or else be rep eat-
ed before eac h term.
the Fren ch , the Ital ian s, the French , the Italians, the
Spanish , and Portu gue se Spanish, and the Portuguese
. . .
in spn ng, summer, or in in spring, su mmer, or winter
winter (in spring, in summer, or in
4 3 I ELE MENTARY P R INC I PLF:S OF CO MPOS IT ION
Som e words require a parti cular preposit ion in certa in idiomatic
uses. Wh en suc h word s are joined in a compound cons truction, all the
appropriate prep ositions must be included, unl ess they a re the sa me.
His speech was mark ed by His speech was mark ed by
di sagreement and sco rn for di sa greement with an d sco rn
his oppo ne nt's positi on . for his oppone nt's pos ition.
Cor relative expressions (both, and; not, but; not only, but also; either,
or; fi rst, second, third; and the lik e) should be follo wed by the sa me
gra mma tical cons truction. Many viola tions of thi s rul e ca n be corrected
by rea rrangin g the se nte nce.
It was both a long ceremony Th e cer emony was both
and very tedi ous. lon g a nd ted iou s.
A time not for words but A tim e not for words bu t
action. for ac tion.
Eithe r you must gra nt his You mu st ei ther gra nt his
request or incur his ill will. request or incur his ill will.
My objections ar e, first, My obj ecti ons are, first ,
the inj us tice of the measure; that the measure is unjust ;
second, that it is un con stitu- second, that it is unconstitu-
It may be ask ed , what if you need to ex press a rath er large number
of si milar ideas- say, twenty? Must you write twenty consecutiv e se n-
ten ces of the sa me pattern? On closer examina tion, you will probabl y
find that the difficulty is ima ginary-that these twenty ideas ca n be
classifi ed into groups, a nd that you need apply the principl e only within
each gro up. Otherw ise, it is best to avo id the diffi culty by putting state -
ment s in the form of a table.
20. Keep related words together.
Th e positi on of the words in a se nte nce is the prin cip al means of
showing their relationship. Confus ion and ambiguity res ult when word s
are badly placed . Th e writer must, ther efor e, br ing togeth er the word s
and groups of words that are relat ed in thou ght and keep ap art those
that are not so related.
T h e Elem ent s oj S ty le I 44
H e noticed a large stain in He noti ced a large stain
the ru g th at was right in the right in the center of th e ru g.
ce nte r.
You ca n call your moth er For just two doll ar s you
in London a nd tell her all ca n ca ll your moth er in
a bou t George's taking you out Lond on a nd tell her all about
to dinner for ju st two doll ar s. Ge orge's taking you out to
New York's Erst commerc ial New York's first commerc ial
human-sp erm bank opene d hum an -sp erm bank ope ned
Frid a y with se me n samples Fr iday when se me n sa mples
from eightee n men frozen in a wer e tak en from eightee n
stainl ess stee l tank . men . Th e samples wer e then
frozen and store d in a sta in-
less steel tank .
In th e lefthand vers ion of the first exa mple, the reader has no way of
kn owin g wheth er the stain was in the ce n ter of the ru g or the rug was in
the ce nter of the room. In the lefthand vers ion of the sec ond exa mple, the
reader may well wond er which cos t two dollars-the phon e call or the
dinner. In the lefth and ve rs ion of the third exa mple, the read er 's heart
goes out to tho se eightee n poor fellows frozen in a stee l tank.
Th e subject of a se ntence a nd the princip al verb should not, as a
rul e, be se pa ra ted by a phrase or cl au se th at can be transferred to the
Toni Morr ison, in Beloved , In Beloved, Toni Morriso n
writes about cha rac ters who writes about cha ra cte rs who
have esc ape d from sla ve ry but ha ve esc ape d from slavery but
a re haunted by its heritage. ar e haunted by its heritage .
A dog, if you fail to di sci - Unless di sci plined , a dog
pl ine him , becom es a hous e- becom es a hou sehold pest.
Int erpo sin g a phrase or a clau se, as in the lefthand examples above,
int errupts the flow of the main clause. Thi s in terruption, however, is not
usually bothersome whe n the flow is chec ke d only by a relative clause
or by an express ion in apposition. Sometimes, in periodic senten ces, the
int erruption is a deliberate device for cre ating sus pe nse. (See exa mples
under Rule 22. )
Th e El e m e n t.s of S t yle / 4 6
The relative pronoun should com e, in most instances , imme diatel y
after its an teced ent.
There was a s tir in the A st ir that sugges ted dis -
aud ien ce that s ugges ted dis- approval swept the audien ce.
He wrote three articles He published three arti-
about his adv entures in Spain, cl es in Harper's Magazine
which wer e pub lish ed in a bout his adv en tur es in Spain.
Th is is a portrait of This is a portrai t of
Benjamin Harrison, who Benjam in Harrison, grandson
became Pres iden t in 1889. He of William Henry Harrison ,
was the grand son of William who becam e Pr esid ent in
Henry Harri son. 1889.
If the ant ec ed ent consists of a group of words, the relative comes at
the end of the group, un le ss this would cause ambigu ity.
Th e Sup erintendent of the Chicago Division , who
No ambiguity results from the abov e. But
A propo sa l to am end the Sher man Act, which has been vario usly
leaves the reader wond ering whether it is the proposal or the Act that
has been variousl y judged . Th e re lative clause must be moved forward ,
to read, "A proposal , which has been variously judged, to am e nd the
Sh erman Act. .. ." Similarly
The grandson of William Willi am Henry Harrison's
Henry Harrison, who grandson , Benjamin Harrison,
A noun in ap posi tion may come between antecedent and relati ve,
because in su ch a combina tion no real ambiguity can arise.
The Duke of York, his brother, who was regarded with hostility by
Modifiers should corne, if possible, next to the words they modify. If
several expressions mod ify the same word, they shou ld be arranged so
that no wrong relation is sugg ested.
T h e El e m e n ts oj S tyle / 48
All the members were not Not all the memb ers were
She only found two mis- She found onl y two mis-
tak es. takes.
The dir ector said he hoped At a meetin g of the com-
all memb ers would give gener- mitte e yesterd ay, the director
ously to the Fund at a meetin g said he hoped all members
of the committee yesterday. would give generou sly to the
Major It E. Joyce will
give a lecture on Tuesda y On Tuesday evening at
evening in Bail ey Hall , to e ight, Major H. E. Joyce will
which the publi c is invited on give a lecture in Bailey Hall
" My Experi en ces in on " My Experi ences in
Mesopotumia " al 8:00 p.m. Mesopotamia." Th e publi c is
Nol e, in th e last lefLhand e xa m ple , how swiftly meaning d eparts when
words are wron gly juxtaposed .
21. In summaries ; keep to one tense,
In s u m ma riz ing th e notion of a drama, use th e present ten se. Tn s u m-
marizing a poem , story, or nov el , al so use th e present thou gh you ma y
use th e past if it seems more natural to do so. If th e s u mma ry is in th e
present tense , antec ed ent a ction should he ex p ressed hy th e perf e ct ; if
in th e past , hy th e pa st perfe ct.
Chan ce prevents Friar .John from deliv erin g Friar Lawrcucc's leiter
to Homco. Meanwhil e, owing to her father's arh itrury change of tho
day set for her wedding, .luliet has heen compe lled 10 dr ink the potion
on Tuesday night , with the result that Balthazar informs Homeo of her
supposed death before Friar Lawrence learns of the non-deli ver y of
the lett er.
Rut whi che ver tense is used in th e s u mma ry, a pa st ten se in indirect
di scourse or in indirect qu e stion remains un changed .
The Friar confesse s that it was he who married them.
Apart from the exc eptions noted, th e writer should use th e same
tense throughout. Shifting from one tense to another giv es the appear-
ance of un c ertainty and irre solution.
49 I ELE MENTAHY PRI CIPI.ES O F C O ~ t P oS IT I O
In presenting th e sta tements or th e thought of some one else, as in
summarizing an essay or reporti ng a speech, do not overwor k su ch
expressions as "he sai d," "she state d," " the speake r added ," " the
speaker then went on to say," " the author also thinks." Indicate cl early
a t the ou tse t, once for all, tha t what follo ws is sum mary, and then was te
no words in rep eating th e notification.
In noteb ooks, in newsp ap ers, in handbooks of lit erature, sum maries
of on e kind or another may be indi sp en sable, and for children in pri -
mary sc hools ret elling a st ory in th ei r own word s is a us eful exerc ise.
But in the critic is m or int erpret ation of lit erature , be care ful to a void
dropping into summa ry. It ma y be necessary to devot e one or two se n-
ten ce s to ind ica ting the su bject, or the ope ning situation, of the work
being di scu ssed , or to cite num erous details to illustrate its qu alities.
But you should ai m a t wr itin g an orde rly di scu ssion supported by evi -
den c e , not a s umma ry with occasional comme nt. Similarly, if the sc ope
of the di scu ssion includes a number of work s, as a ru le it is better not
to tak e them up singly in ch ronological order but to a im from the begi n-
nin g at es tablishing ge ne ra l conclus ions.
2 2. Place the emp h a tic words of a sen ten ce at. the end.
The proper place in the se nte nce for the word or gro up of word s that
th e writ er de sires to mak e most promin ent is usu all y the e nd.
Humanity has hardl y Since that time, humanity
advanced in fortitude since has advanced in many ways,
that time, though it has bUI it has hardl y advanced in
advance d in many other ways. fortitude.
This steel is principally Because of its hardness,
used for making razors, this steel is used principall y
because of its ha rdness. for making razors.
The word or group of words en title d 10 this posi tion of promine nce is
usu all y the logical predi cate-that is, the new el em ent in the sentence ,
as it is in the second example .
The effec tive ness of th e pe rio d ic se nte nce arises from the promi-
nen ce it gives to th e main statem ent.
Four centuries ago, Christopher Columbus, one of the Italian
mariners whom the decline of their own republics had put at the service
Th e E l e m e n t s "j St yle / .02
of the world and of adventure, seeking for Spain a westward pas sage
to the Indies to offset the achi evement of Portuguese discoverers,
lighted on America.
With these hopes and in this belief I would urge you, laying aside
all hindrance, thrusting away all private aims, to devote yourself
unswervingly and unflinchingly to the vigorous and succes sful prose-
cution of this war.
Th e other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any
el em ent in th e sentence oth er than the subj ect becomes emphatic when
Deceit or treachery she could never forgive.
Vast and rude, frelted by the action of nearly three thousand years,
the fragment s of this architectu re lllay often seem, at first sight, like
works of natur e.
Horne is the sailor.
A subj ect corning first in its se n te nce ma y be e mpha tic, but hardl y
by its posit ion alone . In the sentence
Great kings worship ed ut his shrin e
th e e m phas is up on kings ari ses largel y from it s meaning and from th e
contex t. To receiv e s pec ia l e mp has is, the s u bject of a se nte nce mu st
tak e th e pos ition of the predi cate.
Through the middle of the valley flowed a winding stream.
Th e principl e that th e proper place for what is to be mad e most
prominent is the e nd appl ies eq ually to the word s of a se nte nce, to th e
senten ces of a paragraph , an d to the paragraph s of a compos ition.
5:l I EL F:MENTATIY PTII N C1PLF: S or COMPO SITIO N
A Few Matters of Form
Colloquialisms. If you use a colloquialism or a slang word or
phrase, simply use it; do not draw att ention to it by enclosing it in quo-
tation marks. To do so is to put on a irs, as though you were inviting the
reader to join you in a se lect society of those who know better.
Exclamations. Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by
using a mark of exclamation .
It was a wonderful show! It was a wonderful s how.
The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations
What a wond erful show!
Headings . If a man uscript is to be submitted for publication, leave
plenty of space at the top of page 1. The edi tor will need this space to
write directions to the compositor. Place the heading, or titl e, at least a
fourth of the way down the page. Leave a blank line, or its equivalent in
space, after the heading. On succeeding pages, beg in near the top, but
not so near as to give a crowded appearance. Omit the period after a
title or heading. A question mark or an exclamation point may be used
if the heading calls for it.
Hyphen. Whe n two or more words are combined to form a com-
pound adjective, a hyphen is us ually requi red .
" He bel onged to the leisure cl ass and e njoyed leisur e-class pursuits."
"S he en tered her boat in the round-the -isla nd race."
Do not use a hyph en bet ween words that ca n bett er be writte n as one
word: water-fowl, waterfowl. Common se nse will aid you in the deci sion ,
but a di cti onary is more re lia ble . Th e stea dy evolution of th e lan guage
seems to favor union: two words eventually becom e one, usu all y after a
period of hyph en ation.
bed cha mber bed -chamber bedchamb er
wild life wild-life wildlife
bell boy bell-boy bellbo y
Th e hyph en ca n play tr ick s on the unwar y, as it did in Cha tta nooga
when two ne wsp ap ers merged -the News a nd the Free Press. Someo ne
introduced a hyph en int o th e merger, and the pap er becam e The
Cha ttanooga News- Free Press, which sounds as thou gh the pap er were
news-free, or devoid of news. Obviously, we ask too much of a hyph en
when we as k it to cas t its s pell over words it does not adj oin.
Margins. Kee p righth and a nd lefthand margin s roughl y the sa me
width. Excepti on: If a grea t deal of annotating or editing is a ntic ipa ted,
the lefth and mar gin should be roomy e nough to acc ommoda te thi s work.
Numerals. Do not spe ll out dates or other se ria l numbers. Write
them in figures or in Homan notati on, as appropria te.
August 9, 1933 Part XII
Rule :~ :~52 d Infantry
Exception : When they occ ur in dialogue, most dates a nd numbers are
best spe lle d out.
" I arrived horne a ll August ninth ."
"In the yea r 1990, I turn ed twenty-one."
" Read Chapte r Twel ve."
Parentheses. A se nte nce containing a n ex press ion in pa re ntheses
is punctuated outside th e last mark of parenthesis exactly as if th e par-
enthe tic al ex pression wer e ab sent. Th e ex pression within th e marks is
punctuat ed as if it stood by itself, except that the fin al stop is omitt ed
unless it is a qu estion mark or a n exclama tion point.
What a wonderful show!
1 went to her house yesterday (my third attempt to see her), but
she had left town.
He declares (and why should we doubt his good faith?) that he is
now certain of success.
(When a wholly detached expression or se nte nce is parenthesized,
th e final stop comes be fore th e last mark of pa re nthesis.)
Q uotations. Formal quotations cited as doc umen tary evidence are
introduced by a colo n a nd encl osed in quotation marks .
The United States Coast Pilot has this to say of the place: "Bracy
Cove, 0.5 mile eastward of Bear Island , is exposed to southeast winds,
has a rocky and uneven bottom, and is unfit for anchorage."
A quotation grammatically in apposition or the di rec t object of a
verb is preceded by a com ma and enclosed in quotat io n ma rks.
[ am reminded of the advice of my neighbor, "Never worry about
your heart till it stops beating."
Mark Twain says, "A classic is something that everybody wants to
have read and nobody wants to read."
Wh en a quotation is followed by an attrib utive phrase, the comma is
enclosed within the q uota tion marks.
"1 can't attend," she said.
Typographical usage d ic tates that the comma be inside the marks,
thou gh logicall y it ofte n seems not to belong there.
"The Fish," "Poetry," and "The Monkeys" are in Marianne
Moore's Selected Poems.
When quo tat ions of an en tire line, or more, of either verse or prose
are to be di stingu ished typogra phicall y from tex t matter, as are the qu o-
tations in the book, begin on a fresh li ne and ind ent. Quo tation marks
sho uld not be used unless they appear in the ori ginal , as in di al ogue.
Wordsworth's enthusiasm for the French revolution was at first
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
T h e El ements of S t yl e / S8
Quo tation s introduced by that are indirect d iscourse and not
e ncl osed in quotation marks.
Keats declares that beauty is truth, truth beauty.
Dickinson states that a coffin is a small domain.
Proverbial expressions a nd familiar phrases ofliterary origin require
no quotation marks.
These are the times that try men's souls.
He lives far from the madding crowd.
References. In sc holarly work requiring exact referen ces, abbreviate
titles that occur frequently, giving the full forms in an alphab eti cal list
a t the end . As a ge ne ral practi ce, give th e references in parentheses or
in footnotes, not in th e bod y of the senten ce. Omit the words act, scene,
line, book, volume, page, except when referring to on ly one of them.
Punctuate as indica ted be low.
in the second scene of the in IIl.ii (Better still, simply
third act insert 11I .ii in parentheses at
the proper place ill the sen-
Afte r the killing of Polonius, Hamlet is placed und er guard (rv.u.Ia).
2 Samuel i:17-27
Othello Il.iii. 264-267, III.iii.155-1 61.
Syllabication. If there is room al the end of a lin e for one or mor e
syllables of a word , but nol for the whole word, divide the word, un less
this involves cutting off onl y a single letter, or CUlling off onl y two le t-
ters of a lon g word. No hard and fast ru le for all word s ca n be laid down .
Th e principles most frequently applicable are :
(a) Divide the word according to its formation:
know-ledge (not knowl-edge); Shake-speare (not Shakes-peare);
de-scribe (not des-cribe); atmo-sphere (not atmos-phere);
(b) Divid e on the vowel :
edi-ble (not ed-ible); propo-sition; ordi-nary; espe-cial; reli-gious;
oppo-nents; regu-lar; classi-fi-ca-tion (three divisions allowable);
59 I A FEW M AT T ER S O F FORM
(c) Divid e between double lett er s, unless they com e at the end of the
simple form of the word:
Ape n-nines; Cin cin-nati; refer-r ing; bUI tell -ing.
(d) Do not di vid e before final -ed if the e is sile nt:
treat- ed (but not roa m-ed or nam- ed).
Th e treatm ent of consona nts in comb ination is bes t shown from exa mples :
for-tune; pie-lure; sin-gle ; presump-tuous; illu s-t rati on ; sub-s ta n-
tial (eithe r di visi on); indus- try; instruc- tion; sug-ges-tion; incen -di a ry.
Th e stude nt will do well to examine the sylla ble-d ivision in a number
of pages of an y carefully print ed book . Wh en in doubt, cons ult a di c-
Titl e s, For the titl es of lit erary works, sc hola rly usage prefers italics
with cap italized initi als. Th e usage of ed itors a nd pub lis he rs varies,
so me using italic s with ca pita lized initial s, othe rs usin g Homan with
ca p ita lized initials and with or without quotati on marks. Use ital ics
(ind ica ted in manuscript by und erscoring) except in writ ing for a peri -
odi cal th at follows a different practice. Omit initia l A or The from titl es
when you place the possessi ve before them .
A 'fid e of 'l/oo Cities; Dick en s's 'fide of 'f, 110 Citi es.
Th e Age (!I. Inn ocence; Whar ton's Age (!I. Inn ocence.
6 1 I A F E W M ATT EII S OF F O HM
Words and Expressions
Man y of the words and express ions listed here are not so much bad En-
glish as bad style, the commonpluces of ca reless writin g. As illustrat ed
und er Feature, the proper correc tion is likel y to be not the repl acem ent
of one word or se t of word s by another bu t the replacement of vague ge n-
era lity by defin ite s ta te me nt.
Th e sha pe of our lan gua ge is not rigid ; in qu estions of usage we have
no lawgiv er whose word is final. Stude nts whose c ur ios ity is a roused by
the inte rpreta tions tha t follow, or whose doubts a re raised , wiII wish to
pursu e their inves tigations fur ther. Books useful in su ch pu rsu its a re
Merriam Webster :~ Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Ed ition; The American.
Heritage Dictionary ~r the Englisli Language, Thi rd Editi on; Webster
Third New International Dictionary; The New F uiler's Modem English
Usage, Third Edition, ed ited by R. W. Burchfi eld ; Modem America n
Usage: A Guide by Wilso n Follett and Erik Wen sb erg; and The CarejiLl
Writer by Theodore M. Bernste in.
Aggravate. Irritate . Th e first mean s " to add to" an al read y trou -
blesom e or vexin g matt er or cond ition. Th e second mean s " to vex" or
" to annoy" or " to chafe."
All right. Idiomati c in familiar spe ech as a detach ed ph rase in th e
sense "Agreed ," or "Go ah ead," or "O .K." Properl y writt en as two
word s- all right .
Allude. Do not confuse with elude. You allude to a book; you elude
a pursu er. Note, too, that allude is not synonymous with ref er. An allu-
sion is an indirect men tion , a refe re nc e is a specific one .
A llus io n. Easil y confuse d with illusion. The first means "an indirect
refere nce"; the seco nd mean s "an unreal imag e" or "a fal se impression ."
A ltern a te . A lternative. The word s are not always interch angeable
as nouns or adjec tives . The first mea ns every oth er one in a se ries ; th e
second, one of two possibili ties . As th e oth er one of a series of two, an
alternate may sta nd for "a substitute," but an alternative, although used
in a simi lar se nse , conno tes a matter of choice th at is never pres ent with
As the Ilooded road left th em no alterna tive, they took the alter-
nat e route.
A m o ng. Between. When more than two thi ngs or per sons ar e
invo lved, among is usually calle d for: "The money was divided a mong
the four players ." When however, more than two are involved but eac h
is cons idered individ ually, between is preferred: " an agreem en t be twee n
the s ix heirs."
A n d /o r. A device, or shortcut, tha t damages a sentence and often
leads to confus ion or am biguity.
First of all, would an First of all, would an
ho nor sys te m s uccessfully cut honor system red uce the inc i-
down on the amount of stealing de nce of stealing or cheating
an d/or cheating? or both ?
A n ti cipate . Use expect in the sen se of simple expec tation.
I anticipated tha t he would I ex pec ted that he would
look older. look older.
My brother an ticipated the My broth er expected th e
upturn in the marke t. upturn in th e mark e t.
In the sec ond example, the word ant icipated is a mbiguous . It could
mean sim ply that the broth er bel ieved the up turn would occur, or it
T h e E l eme nts 0/ S l :rle / 6 4